Press "Enter" to skip to content

Michigan Reconnect Expands Eligibility

The state budget contains funds to expand the Michigan Reconnect program to offer free community college tuition to all residents 21 years of age or older. The state limits eligibility to those who do not have a GED or at least 60 post-secondary credits.

On paper, the idea is good. The new funds will open the program to about 350,000 more potential participants. Currently, more than four million state residents are eligible for the program. In practice, the numbers have been less exciting. The program has approved about 123,000 applicants to participate. That means the ratio of program applicants to enrolled students is about 3%. Put another way, only one out of every 33 eligible people applies to the program.

The number of participants decreases from there. Of the 123,000 people who filled out applications, 27,000 actually enrolled. The enrollment rate among applicants is about 22%. So, about 2 of every 9 applicants enroll in coursework that will allow them to earn a degree, certificate, or GED.

Among those who have enrolled, about 2,800 people – or one out of ten – have graduated. The program has only been available for a couple of years, so a 10% graduation rate isn’t the worst outcome. Among all community college students, about one out of three attend classes full time. Using that standard, one could reasonably expect 9,000 of the 27,000 enrolled students to attend classes full time, so the number of graduates should increase substantially in the next year or so.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the yield for Michigan Reconnect thus far has been fewer than 7 graduates per 10,000 program-eligible residents. The participation rate has been fewer than 66 people per 10,000 program-eligible residents. And the application rate has been 300 per 10,000 eligible residents.

Improving the impact of Michigan Reconnect

If the current program is a reliable indicator, Michigan can expect to see another 10,500 applicants, 2,300 students, and 245 graduates. I’m not criticizing the program for its level of success. But at this rate, the State of Michigan is not going to “move the needle” on the overall program goal. To do that, the program would have to enroll and graduate tens of thousands of students every year for the next 7 years.

The question is, “Why isn’t that happening?”

This isn’t a problem of inputs. All of the inputs are present: adults without post-secondary credentials, money to pay for their education, community colleges to deliver the education.

Michigan has 28 community colleges and 83 counties. The program has taken some criticism in the past for not paying out-of-district tuition, but the reality is that certain communities around the state have invested in building community colleges while others have not. And among the communities that have built community colleges, the level of community investment varies considerably.

One element of “readiness” to deliver the Michigan Reconnect program that the state apparently didn’t consider was the availability of degree programs that would allow participants to earn a living wage. The data on wages after community college graduation/attendance is widely available. Community colleges are full of programs that train people for low-wage occupations.

What the state should have provided up front was money to create/improve programs that lead to high-wage, high demand jobs. Michigan Reconnect was a great opportunity to fund the development/improvement of instructional programs for jobs in clean energy, electric vehicles, water treatment, food science and urban farming, computer science, air traffic control, maritime sciences, electrical transmission, skilled trades, municipal management, and certain healthcare fields.

It still could be.

Photo Credit: Celine Nadeau , via Flickr